The Case against (that thing you call) Democracy
[For libertarians] coercion can take a bunch of different shapes. Taxes are coercion. Democracy is coercion. Unions are coercion. Anything that represents the will of the collective over the will of the individual is coercion.
Taxes are indeed coercion. As hard as the commenters here have tried to make me think otherwise, I still can’t. Now, taxes may be necessary coercion. They may even coerce people into doing something right and good and beautiful. But coercion remains coercion, and saying “pay up or I put you in a cage” is working very close to any reasonable definition of the term, whether the speaker is an agent of the state or just a freelancer.
That’s more or less how I feel about the others, too. We live in a world full of coercion. I find it both more courageous and more analytically useful simply to admit it, to realize that some coercions may after all be necessary for achieving the ends you prefer, and to recognize that any amount of coercion should give us pause just the same. Do libertarians make you uncomfortable hereabouts? Good. It means we’re doing our job.
Michael Lind recently wrote a piece on libertarian hostility to democracy and at the time I felt as though something were missing from the otherwise excellent article. I believe that many libertarians sincerely do believe in liberty. Yet for all that, the antipathy to democracy – which goes well beyond Hayek’s preferred “liberal dictatorship” – reveals the fundamental internal conflict within libertarianism: in order for it to exist as a model for society, democracy must be snuffed out through coercion.
Michael Lind’s piece was profoundly dishonest, engaged in selective quotation, and stooped as low as to claim that John Stuart Mill was an autocrat. If your autocrat detector lights up for Mill, you’ve got a serious, serious problem. At least I’d think.
But do libertarians hate democracy? Here’s what libertarian hero Ludwig von Mises really thought about democracy [Edit: I mis-pasted. The following is from von Mises]:
There is not the slightest reason to object to professional politicians and professional civil servants if the institutions of the state are democratic… [Democracy is]… that form of political constitution which makes possible the adaptation of the government to the wishes of the governed without violent struggles.
I also agree with every word of the following, from Friedrich Hayek:
[E]ven a wholly sober and unsentimental consideration which regards democracy as a mere convention making possible a peaceful change of the holders of power should make us understand that it is an ideal worth fighting for to the utmost, because it is our only protection (even if in its present form not a certain one) against tyranny. Though democracy itself is not freedom (except for that indefinite collective, the majority of ‘the people’) it is one of the most important safeguards of freedom. As the only method of peaceful change of government yet discovered, it is one of those paramount though negative values, comparable to sanitary precautions against the plague, of which we are hardly aware while they are effective, but the absence of which may be deadly.
I suppose, however, that this must be insufficiently strong praise. Perhaps I must say that in a democracy the will of the collective somehow replaces or sublates my own will, that it can turn wrong into right, or that it can make voluntary all acts of coercion. I get the sense, anyway, that this is what’s expected of us, and that libertarians’ real offense is that we go around saying that — for these cases at least — Emperor Democracy isn’t wearing any clothes.
And if that’s the case, then I am an enemy of democracy. But I still agree with von Mises.